IWD 2021: We Chat With Jamie Koh, Brass Lion Distillery

The woman behind one of Singapore's first craft spirits talks to us about her entrepreneurial journey as well as a sneak peek into Brass Lion Distillery's newest gin product.

In honour of International Women's Day, we want to shine the spotlight on successful female entrepreneurs in the F&B spaces. Today, we chat with Jamie Koh, the woman behind leading Singapore concepts Chupitos Shots Bar, The Beast, and Brass Lion Distillery.

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What inspires you about being in F&B?

Being in F&B, we try to create different concepts for people. So all of our concepts are first-of-its kind in the market. Having customers come in, and experiencing the concept for themselves. Knowing that it’s something a bit new for them, educating them is what gives me the biggest satisfaction.

Food and drinks aside, what is another thing necessary for the success of a restaurant or a bar?

I think besides food and drinks, naturally the customer service is very important. Besides that, it’s also about the restaurant or bar evolving. So always keeping ahead of market trends, reacting and creating something new, or something different. So I guess evolving with the times.

Who is a peer in the industry that you admire?

A peer in the industry I admire would be our master distiller, Frank. We found him on our trip to Germany, and we really admired the way he distills. Because he insists on doing things the traditional way, and he’s a stickler for quality. So for example, he insists we hand peel all our citrus fruits by hand. Even though, obviously, it's much easier to buy dried peels. And we also crush our juniper berries by hand, even though it’s more laborious. But we believe that that’s what makes a better product.

Could you share with us a little bit more about your entrepreneurial journey?

With Chupitos, I had actually just moved back to Singapore from the US. And I knew that I wanted to start my own business. I was walking along Clarke Quay and I saw a sign that said, “Win this space!” And that was how I took part in this competition. There were hundreds of entries, but we pitched the idea of a shots bar, because we felt like it was complimentary to all the other offerings in Clarke Quay, and there were no shots bars in Singapore. So the concept would be, you can find a shot for everyone there. Whether it’s more sweet, or more creamy or more fruity. Or whether flaming, or with props. We created a whole extensive range of 130 different types of shots. And so that was the competition that kickstarted the whole journey of Chupitos. It’s been 11 years and we’re still at Clarke Quay.

What about the restaurant we're currently in, The Beast?

So after Chupitos, I was looking for something new, and I came across this space. It’s a three-storey building, and it kind of looked like a barn. And I went to school in Atlanta, Georgia, so I thought that I wanted to bring a slice of the American South to Singapore. So really something unpretentious, you can come here, have drinks, have bourbons. We used to have live music as well. Obviously hearty, southern comfort food, which was very new to Singapore then.

Through running Chupitos and The Beast, I realised that there was a growing appreciation for craft spirits and I realised that as a Singaporean, there were no spirits in Singapore. And this was made more obvious when I did an around the world trip, a one year trip around the world. And I realised that every country kind of had a spirit to call their own, and I felt like it was a huge shame that we didn’t. And even the Singapore Sling is, you know, a classic gin-based cocktail, and they were using foreign gin to pour as the base for this cocktail. So I really wanted to create a tropical spirit, and that’s why we started the Singapore Dry Gin, which gave birth to the Brass Lion Distillery.

Any advice for women who want to start their own businesses?

For anyone who wants to start their own business, I would say, definitely just do it, because you would regret it if you don’t do it. But I would say, don’t just plunge headfirst into it. But know what else you need. So running a restaurant isn’t just about loving to cook, or entertaining guests. But there’s a lot more that goes on behind the scenes. So I would say know, or equip yourself with all the skills necessary to run a business, or realise what you can’t do. So if marketing is not your forte, or finance is not your forte, realise that quickly. And either you be prepared to learn it yourself quickly, or you have to find someone else who can do it to fill in the gaps.

Anything else you wish we had asked about?

So International Women’s Day is coming up, and we have a few guest shifts for Brass Lion around the city to promote Women’s Day. But besides that, we also have a new gin, which is a navy strength gin. It’s to represent the strength of a woman. And we actually collaborated with a local tattoo artist on this - it's a navy style kind of theme. It’s 57% so for people who really like their spirits and who want to taste their spirits, this gin is for you.